Beigou Village Tour

By Vanessa Lam
Schoolhouse Intern, Summer 2015

1. The Brickyard

In 2009, Jim Spear and Tang Liang stumbled upon a run down roof tile factory that happened to have incredible views of the great wall and soon afterwards it became The Brickyard hotel. Our Chinese name 瓦厂 (Wǎ chǎng) literally translates as “tile factory” and we’ve preserved the row of old firing kilns and original tile roofs of the previous factory. Historically, glazed roof tiles were used exclusively on palace buildings or the residencies of high officials; the colors of the tiles represent the blue sky, yellow sun and green grass. Today, The Brickyard is no longer a smoke belching factory but a 25 room boutique hotel with a spa, restaurant and our own vegetable gardens. We strive to be a sustainable operation conscious of both our environment and our community.

2. Root Cellar
Directions: Turn left outside the main gate. In a moment you’ll walk by the root cellar pictured below.

Beyond this tiny stone entryway is a dark and musty underground cellar that maintains approximately the same temperature year round. Root cellars are scattered throughout BeiGou and you’ll likely notice several more during your walk today. Home refrigerators are an unnecessary luxury for most villagers since vegetables, grains and other perishables are commonly stored in these practical, energy saving underground cellars.

3. Public Toilet
Directions: Make a left at the first intersection

Thousands of public toilets adorn the cities and rural villages of China. Built by the government to improve sanitation and cleanliness, many rural toilets also function as public bath houses with running hot water. In recent years residents of Beigou have begun investing profits in their own homes by installing private toilets and various other add ons. Community toilets like this one are now rarely used by locals and often remain locked.

4. Mules in the North Ditch
Location: The dry canal just beyond the public toilet
Beigou (北沟) literally translates as “North Ditch” and the dry canal up ahead is what our village is named after. Beigou was filled with water before the Mutianyu aqueduct was built in the late 70s-directing water from the mountains down a different route through Huairou and into Beijing. Today villagers still make good use of the canal, growing vegetables and fruit trees where the land is fertile enough and storing goods in cellars along the canal wall. You might see a couple of mules grazing along this empty canal. Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and female horse; they’re strong and tame but infertile. Only two out of the one hundred or so families in Beigou currently own mules because they are expensive to care for and outdated due to the construction of paved roads. Nowadays the three wheeler truck is used for transportation between Beigou and its neighboring villages; many of them are equipped with loudspeakers advertising goods for sale.

5. Introduction to Beigou
Directions: Walk past the dried canal. The sign pictured below is across the street at the next intersection

Quick facts: CPC-Communist Party of China
-Party members are selected from the top ranks of high schools and colleges. The CPC is highly selective and an invitation to join them is very rarely denied. One can also be nominated or recommended by other party members or apply on their own initiative.

Village Cadre-Official CPC administrators in rural areas
-As of summer 2015, the current mayor (highest ranking village cadre) is Wang Quan. The names and picture of each village cadre are displayed by the government office, which you’ll see later on in this tour.

Education System in Beigou
-25 years ago Mutianyu village had its own elementary school that served children from Mutianyu, Beigou, Xinying and Tianxianyu villages. The school was shut down in 1987 because -due to China’s 1 child policy- there weren’t enough children to sustain it. Today the deserted school building in Mutianyu is our restaurant The Schoolhouse.
-Nowadays children from Beigou and many other nearby villages attend elementary school in a large and modern building in Bohai Town (about 10 minutes away by car) that serves about 400 students.
-Middle and High schoolers commute to Huairou (about 20-30 minutes away). Most of them live at school during the week, coming home on weekends and holidays.

6. Trees and Crops of Beigou

Pictured above are a Chestnut (栗子 lìzǐ) tree (first row) and a Walnut (核桃 hétáo) tree (second row) which are a main source of livelihood for many of the villagers in our area. The orchards on surrounding hills contain an abundance of chestnut, walnut, pear and apple trees, dotted here and there by a few remaining native pine. Please be careful not to harm the branches or pick fruits from trees or off the ground- the official policy is a fine of up to rmb 10/piece if you are caught.

During harvest season (September & October) villagers sell these fruits along the main village roads or by Mutianyu rotary. Chestnuts are sold for RMB 5-10 for 500 grams (1.1 lbs) and walnuts, which are more difficult to grow, are sold for RMB 15-20 for 500 grams. The average annual harvest for each family is between 1,000 kg - 3,000 kg (2,205 lbs. -6,614 lbs) of chestnuts and walnuts. Chestnuts are not picked from the trees; they are ripe only when they’ve fallen off. During harvest season villagers are often seen with a long wooden stick that is used to shake ripe walnuts off the trees. Crushing each one by foot and then separating the walnut from its husk is a tedious task shared by the entire family.

Corn and sorghum are also widely grown in Beigou village but the biodiversity of crops and livestock has diminished greatly over the past 30-40 years: native varieties of red bean, mung bean, black bean, millet, and soybean are seldom planted. The extinction of food products and its adverse effects on our environment is a problem not only in Beigou but in modern communities worldwide.

On the bright side, many villagers still plant local cucumber, green beans, bok choy, pumpkin and winter melon in their own private courtyard gardens. In the summertime you’ll see locals munching on their freshly picked cucumber or gifting them to family and friends. These homegrown goodies are rarely sold to outsiders.

Every fall on Slow Food Saturday The Schoolhouse organizes a day of activities and good eats to raise awareness and support for Slow Food.

7. Millstones
Directions: Turn right at the last intersection, heading north towards the great wall. The millstone pictured below is tucked away on the right side of the road (before the traffic mirror)
Like root cellars, millstones are also scattered throughout Beigou village. Electric powered machines have replaced millstones in factories throughout China but it’s still fairly common to see people using millstones in rural villages. The traditional millstone is made up of a flat slab and cylindrical roll of concrete, both of which have distinct sets of diagonal cuts to better grind the grain into flour. Far too heavy for any common human to pull, the stone roller is harnessed to a donkey, which is always fitted with blinders to prevent dizziness after hours of walking in circles. To ensure the grain is evenly ground a farmer stands nearby to sift and add grain. Millstones are left untouched in the summer months; they are used only in the winter time after fall grains have been harvested and dried.

8. The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety
Location: further up the road on your left.
This mural is an illustration of the famous 24 Paragons of Filial Piety, written by poet and scholar Guo JuJing of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) . Filial piety (respect for your elders) is a philosophical virtue that still resonates strongly in Chinese culture today. Along the right side of this mural road is a panorama of Beigou village; take a peek into a some of the charming courtyards below. *Short, scenic detour: take the next left turn (just before the village square parking lot). After turning you’ll see a little dirt path on your left, directly across from another millstone. This 10 minute hike along a stone paved path leads to a pagoda on the hill with amazing views of the wild wall and Tianxianyu village in the next valley over. The Schoolhouse Orchard is located in Tianxianyu and is the production facility of our homemade liqueurs and vinegars. Feel free to stop by The Brickyard Lodge this evening for a free sampling of our liqueurs.

9. Xiaolumian
Location: North of the filial piety mural, across the street from Beigou’s village square.
At the edge of Beigou’s village square (which also serves as a parking lot and community dancing plaza) you will find another one of our restaurant venues, Xiaolumian. Xiaolumian (小庐面), which translates to Little Hut Noodles is a converted village farmhouse with a story of its own. Now a noodle shop, Xiaolumian provides Mutianyu with a charming dining experience. Guests can enjoy a seasonal menu with hand made noodles and dumplings in a beautifully restored building with original heated kang beds. Our little noodle hut is open weekends in April, May, September and October and is available for private functions.

10. Confucius Statue
Location: Across the street from Xiaolumian
To the south of the square sits a statue of Confucius or Kong Zi (孔子). Born in 551 B.C., Confucius is arguably the most influential person in Chinese history. Many Chinese traditional virtues are based upon his teachings. A complex dynamic of social and political ethics rooted in filial piety, kinship, loyalty, and righteousness, Confucianism is not a religion but a way of living. As a philosopher, educator and statesman, Confucius taught a variety of subjects, including how good citizens should behave and how children should honor and respect their elders and ancestors. The well-known inverted golden rule: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others,” summarizes many of his teachings.

11. General Stores

If you’re craving packaged chicken feet or in need of bug repellant it’s time to make a quick stop at one of the general stores. These local convenience stores are a common hang out for the elderly folks of Beigou who are often seen playing a game of cards or relaxing on the chairs out front. Here you can put your bargaining skills to the test for a bottle of YanJing beer (rmb 3 for locals, 10-30 for tourists) or stock up on water for a long hike. In keeping with tradition, The Schoolhouse General Store located at the Mutianyu rotary shopping center also sells various local knick knacks and snacks.

*Long detour to the Great Wall: the road between these two general stores will take you all the way up to the great wall in about 1 and a half- 2 hours. See Hike 8 for directions, but please be sure you have already purchased park entry tickets as there may be a checkpoint set up near the wall. For a description of more hikes, The Walking Guide to Mutianyu by Schoolhouse intern Eloise Walter is available for viewing and purchase in The Brickyard lobby.

12. Playgrounds
Location: North and south of the village square
As of 2015, these adult playgrounds have been around for about 3 years. Most of the time the equipment (with the exception of the two swings at the north playground, which have a great view of the wall) is used for lounging rather than exercising purposes and you might run into a protective grandparent urging her grandchild to get off of or stay away from the equipment. In Beigou the preferred method of exercise is a nightly gathering for a dance-along aerobics video broadcast on the large LED screen in the village square. If you’re visiting during the warmer months feel free to join them at around 7pm or just after sunset.

13. Hammer and Sickle Stone
Location: In front of the city hall at the village square
Right outside Beigou’s Village Hall is an outstanding stone on which a carved and painted symbol proudly reminds the public of China’s Communist history. The hammer and sickle were the main tools used in the industrial factory and agricultural field and symbolize the working class proletariat and peasant class workers respectively. First conceived during the Russian Revolution, the hammer and sickle are a symbol of Communism known throughout the world. This rock was placed here on August 8th, 2007; the date is carved in Chinese characters on the bottom left hand corner of the rock.

14. Beigou Village Hall
Location: Behind the hammer and sickle stone
The large red characters on the front of Beigou’s village hall translate as “Bohai Town Beigou Village”. Beigou village has its own village committee, made up of and elected by members of the local community. In China, the Law of Village Committees consists of 30 articles that ensure self-government by the villagers living in the countryside. A public library and ping pong room are also located inside this building. The smaller led screen attached to outside wall displays the weather forecast.

*Detour to Mutianyu: The first uphill path south of the government building leads you to an official trail between Beigou & Mutianyu villages. Walk up this path and you will come across a 3 pronged fork in the road. Take the middle road to find a small wooden bridge leading to a paved hike with panoramic views of Beigou village, two pavilions and friendly Chinese & English mosaic messages along the pathway (about 45 minutes to Mutianyu).

15. Si Ma Guang, General Yue Fei and Beigou’s Model Party Members
Directions: Turn right when facing the village hall. Walk south along Beigou’s main road in the direction of The Brickyard

On your left side are two painted illustrations of ancient Chinese folklore. The first story depicted by a woman writing Chinese characters on a man’s back is “Mother of General Yue Fei Tattoos Her Son’s Back”. The second one is titled Si Ma Guang Breaks the Pottery Vase. In the display panels on your right hand side are pictures of the model communist party members of Beigou, including the mayor (first panel, top row, first from the left) and other notable party members. The second display panel lists the various duties of each party member and their cellphone numbers. The third red & white display panel is reserved for public village accounting documents including donation receipts, meeting schedules and a semester summary of revenue management and government activity. The final panel is for local job postings.

16. Bei Ga Lar
Directions: Continue heading south towards The Brickyard. Beigalar is on your left side.
For those of our guests who’d like to try local Chinese food, Beigalar (don’t mind the sign) is another excellent option for lunch. Owned and staffed by locals, their stewed pork (红烧肉-hongshaorou) is a real treat. Beigalar is open daily during busy seasons (spring and fall) and closed during winter but please be aware that they don’t hold regular business hours and tend to close early (around 5 or 6pm). Don’t worry if you can’t read or speak Chinese, Beigalar has an English menu we’ve helped them to translate.

18. Door Gods
Location: On most of the gates in Beigou
The posters that you see adorning most of the front gates in Beigou village are pictures of door gods and couplets expressing good wishes and fortune. Worshipping door gods is a traditional custom in China and the posters are renewed yearly during Chinese New year. The gods protect the family, bringing peace and good fortune and will always be placed facing each other; placing them back to back is bad luck. This charming gate is tucked away in a little side street off the main road of Beigou, can you find it?

19. Mao Tou
Directions: Continue heading south down the main street, Maotou can be seen on almost every rooftop
The 矛头 (máotóu) is a roof tile that spans the entire length of a traditional Chinese roof and points skyward at each end. Directly translated as “spearhead”, this is the final piece to be added to the house and marks the end of construction. The maotou tile also protects the home from evil spirits and when the home is completed a celebration of firecrackers and the pouring of Baijiu across the entire length of the tile is performed.

The picture above is taken from our book Great Wall Style, which documents Jim Spear’s preservation of village architecture in and around Mutianyu. The book is available for viewing and purchase in The Brickyard lobby.

20. Loyalty to Chairman Mao
Location: In front of the city hall at the village square
We are now back at the first intersection where our walking guide commenced. Straight ahead is the Brickyard, to the right is the public toilet and to the left is Hike 4 (Shortcut to Mutianyu). Take a look behind you at the mountains and Great might be able to discern five Chinese characters that have been concreted on to the mountain. The characters are 忠于毛主席 (Zhōngyú máo zhǔxí), which translate as “Loyalty to Chairman Mao” and were formed in 1968 during the peak of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). For a period of about 20 years the surrounding trees slowly engulfed the concrete letters, which were altogether forgotten until a particularly bright and clear morning in 2009 when the villagers of Beigou once again awoke to a freshly painted inscription (under the direction of Mayor Wang Quan). Chairman Mao, who founded the People’s Republic of China once said: “If you do not climb the Great Wall then you are not a true hero.”


Hi, my name is Vanessa Lam. I currently attend Seattle University and am aiming for a double degree in Humanities for Teaching and Math. My cultural roots are Chinese but this summer (2015) was my first time in China and I absolutely fell in love with everything here. I knew from the time I was very young that my vocation was to be a high school math teacher by day and famous pop star by night. I want to end up in a place where my passion and love meet the world’s needs- even better if this place also serves my favorite type of food--home cooked Chinese meals made with love. :)
Thank you for reading!

Note from the editor: Thank you very much for your support of my family business The Brickyard and for exploring Beigou Village, which i’ve called home for the past three years. I hope you’ll take a moment to learn about our sustainable business practices and the slow food movement. Our goal is to provide Brickyard guests with a unique experience of the great wall and village life; we wish you a pleasant stay and welcome feedback and questions.

-Emily Tang Spear